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Five for Friday: Five Nicolas Cage Movies That Are Perfectly Acceptable For One to Own

Every Friday, I’m compiling a list of five things that meet one criterion. “What is that criterion,” you ask? Well, it’s going to change every week and you’re just going to have to try and keep up.

 

This week…

Five Nicolas Cage Movies That Are Perfectly Acceptable For One to Own

The man is an easy target. Though his acting chops seemingly exist (more on this below), his professional choices – particularly since around 1998 – are questionable, at best.

However, his IMDb page is not a black hole; small glimmers of light from a parallel plane of existence actually have escaped from time to time and entertained the hell out of me (and many more).

These are the five brightest beacons burning out their fuses up there, alone:

5. Con Air

By all means, this is a terrible movie. Mr. Cage’s long hair, alone, is reason enough to seek out other entertainment options. In addition, there’s a consistent dearth of logic (note to all Green Berets: according to Con Air, if you kill someone in self-defense, you are actually not subject to the same laws as everyone else), hilariously overbearing and on-the-nose score music, a final action sequence that just will not end, Cage’s signature over-acting that eventually starts to affect the guys around him, a clunky line of dialogue proclaiming the movie’s title in dramatic diegetic fashion (a staple of a great film), the typically 99% inept law enforcement agency, a solid roster of signature 90s actors like Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, John Malkovich, and John Cusack… none of it seems real.

But it’s all too real, as I learn with each subsequent viewing.

4. The Rock

Now this movie is legitimately good and fun (yes, Michael Bay, you did it!). It is an action movie, through and through, so you can’t expect to be challenged or moved in any substantial way, as a viewer. But it hits all the marks. Simple scenes are staged in unnecessarily lavish locations with inexplicably expensive props and set pieces. Some scenes really serve no purpose. There are lines obviously penned by a hopeful writer yearning to make his mark on the annals of action movie dialogue history… lines that continually fall flat on their face, becoming memorable for the wrong reasons.

It bears Sean Connery’s last memorable role. Cage plays Nic Cage Character B – “the smart yet apprehensive guy who slowly builds himself into the hero you expected him to be from the opening minute” better than he probably ever has.

There’s a logjam of “hey, aren’t we politically informed?” plot points that fall on deaf ears amidst attempts at obvious jokes like Anthony Clark playing a gay hairdresser and similes about Elton John’s ‘Rocketman’.

Does the supporting cast around Cage and Connery stack up to the superstar contingent contained within Con Air? Not really, as the only other certifiable star is basically just Ed Harris. But there is an astounding cavalcade of That Guys (guys whom you instantly recognize but you don’t really know). John Spencer, David Morse, William Forsythe, Michael Biehn, John C. McGinley, Tony Todd, Todd Louiso, Danny Nucci, Greg Collins, Steve Harris, David Bowe, Bokeem Woodbine… do a Google image search on all of them – you know every single one of these men’s faces and they’re all in The Rock.

It’s an eminently satisfying and watch-able flick providing a brilliant snapshot of what was happening in the 1990s, when it came to action films.

3. Face/Off

This movie is admittedly no better than Con Air but there are two reasons it ranks higher: a. director John Woo, b. Nic Cage, John Travolta, and the movie itself are (from beginning to end) entirely, completely, and unabashedly ridiculous by design.

Firstly, it needs to be said that Woo may never again approach his Hard Boiled/The Killer-level of righteousness but in someone else’s hands, this movie would’ve been boring and cheap in addition to being ridiculous; the visionary Chinese filmmaker presents astounding non-CGI action sequences that still hold up.

By the way, all that action? It’s just the tip of the iceberg; the movie’s plot and lack of plausibility – THOSE are what will sink you. If you take my advice and watch it, you need to be ready to buy into the fact that human beings’ faces can be swapped, surgically. If you’re good with that, you’re ready for more. And here it is: though Travolta and Cage are drastically different-sized people, their post-surgery forms suggest science no longer has bounds and this problem was fixed with some scalpels (which I guess we should have guessed, based on the face-swapping business).

Oh, and did I mention someone makes a phone call without a face? It’s a movie full of marvelous moments akin to that, all of which have elicited more furrowed brows out of Earth’s population than any math problem, puzzle, riddle, or complex narrative staged before or since. On top of that, I am convinced that Cage (prior to production) made a legitimate bet with Travolta regarding who could take their impression of the other to the most preposterous level without transforming it into intentional comedy and it is in this belief that I remember that Nic Cage actually (and rather secretly, in 2009) is a good actor: he “out-Travoltas” Travolta for over an hour.

Now, is it just me, or does that sound like the absolutely ideal recipe for a movie?

2. Adaptation

Many people may cite this as Cage’s best-ever effort and I have no real issue with that perspective. However, I feel Charlie Kaufman’s unbelievably pitch-perfect writing meant Cage (or any other actor who could’ve potentially landed it) was fortunate to get the role rather than vice versa.

That being said, Cage does knock it out of the park in a way that had most people (myself included) positively stunned, circa 2002. The endlessly talented guy we had only occasionally glimpsed in a career dating back nearly two decades seemed to have arrived, full-time, in a movie that challenged him as much as it showcased him.

Additionally, the fact that Cage once again seemed amicable to playing a lead role that made him look legitimately human (i.e., not someone who can see the future or solve elaborate archaeological mysteries or try to stop apocalyptic disasters) restored the hope of any avid movie-watcher who, once upon a time, enjoyed a little movie called…

1. Raising Arizona

Cage’s performance in what is probably ‘the-best-Coen-Brothers-film-that-everybody-seems-to-have-forgotten’ makes you wonder if the current Nic Cage is even the same guy who stole that baby in 1987 or if a mysterious twin or robot of some sort has replaced him, in the years since. He’s not “Nic Cage: 21st Century Movie Star”, here; he’s “Nicolas Cage: Actor” and that benefits the movie to a degree that is both hard to quantify and nearly impossible to identify in most any other film.

He’s playing a relatively simple and accessible role yet, because it’s freaking Nic Cage doing it, this common exercise of merely doing one’s job as an actor takes you aback in its straightforwardness. He’s earnest, he’s in touch, and he’s making a great movie that much more special which – if you were not exposed to Raising Arizona until relatively recently – is a fact made all the more astounding based on the man’s latter career context.

Nic Cage can go in search of another National Treasure, he can keep remaking films that pale in comparison to their source material (see: Gone in Sixty Seconds, The Wicker Man, Bangkok Dangerous), he can even make a few more Ghost Rider pictures, for all I care… and you won’t hear a peep out of me because the guy has given me the five flicks mentioned above. And that’s more than enough.

About

Justin Brown is a writer and artist living in Virginia. He channels most of his mind's molten river of creativity into his blog Esteban Was Eaten!. For even more information about him, check out his website.

 

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